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When will the Marlborough bubble burst?

Some of the wine world’s most commercially important products are those produced in the cool-climate region at the very north of New Zealand’s South Island. 

In 1973, when the first vines were planted at Brancott, I’m not sure anybody would believe that the wines produced would rival those from the Loire valley which had dominated for so long, and continue to be cherished all over the world.

It didn’t take long for Marlborough Sauvignon’s to start catching the eye of the critics and judges. Ernie Hunter led the way with his Fume Blanc being awarded Gold in the full-bodied dry white category at the Sunday Times Vintage Festival in 1986. 

Where critics lead, the public occasionally follows, and during the late ’80s, there was one name which cemented Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc’s reputation and position: Cloudy Bay. This wine became the poster boy and laid the foundations for the hundreds of wines which have followed it since. Its elegant simplicity of branding, distinctive flavour profile, and consistency of delivery made it a household name. 

Of course, when commercial success and grapes collide there are always going to be those looking to jump on the band wagon, those who want a slice of new opportunity pie. The ink may have been still wet on the LVMH - Cloudy Bay contract when the supermarket giants began buying up huge quantities of fluid, not caring if the harvest was ripe, or not. All the time they were looking for ways to increase the opportunity, hoodwink the masses, and capitalise on a public who wanted to enjoy a drop of New Zealand white in their own homes.

So when will this bubble burst? This commercial behemoth dominates the white wine category and has done now for some 30 years. With its green grass and gooseberry nose, tropical fruit palate, and fresh citrus finish. 

There have, however, been chinks appearing in its armour. A terrible harvest during the pandemic in 2021 resulted in horrible price increases way before Putin started bombing Ukraine’s glass factories. 

A 30% drop in yield was a catastrophe that had buyers and wholesalers asking the same question; what happens if the 2022 harvest fails? Luckily it didn’t, but it wasn’t the best either. Heavy rainfalls just before harvest resulted in wineries harvesting beyond the production capacity to ensure they didn’t lose out. 

The truth is, the public demands Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Neither climate change nor Russian megalomaniacs will change their minds. To be honest, I don’t blame them! It’s a safe go-to wine, that can be breath-taking in its vibrancy. It also benefits from being approachable. I love French Sauvignon, but between the price of Sancerre and the pronunciation problems with Pouilly Fume, the everyday wine drinker feels safe in the embrace of Marlborough. After all, it was their favourite brand of cigarettes for quite a while, so they can have a go at saying it.

That’s why, when I had the opportunity, I jumped at the chance to bring some new juice to market. This liquid, which is so abundantly ripe with tropical fruits is everything that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc represents and should be. Its green-tinged straw colour is inviting. Green grass and gooseberry grab your nose, aromatic and intense. The palate is alive with topical fruits, whilst the finish is fresh, zesty, and grapefruit-like. All I needed was a name. So I looked to the heritage of the land, the culture and the nature of the fruit itself. Waina Tonu or “full vine” if you don’t speak Māori. 

So, when will the Marlborough bubble burst? I don’t know, but with wines like Waina Tonu hitting the market; it won’t be any time soon.

Waina Tonu - now available and distributed exclusively by Deckers Trading Limited, the people behind Drinks Aisle.

For wholesale enquiries or to find out more about how you can stock this wine, please email wholesale@deckersgroup.com.

By Rick Stansfield

Rick is a WSET qualified wine expert, and highly experienced bar tender. With 18 years’ experience serving behind bars in restaurants, hotels, and function spaces, plus extensive experience with mixology, Rick chooses all the wines offered here at Drinks Aisle.